Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J. K. Rowling. This is a non-profit work.
A/N: Thanks to Sorcerer's Muse who permitted the use of her wonderful idea of magisexaudio.
The Trial of the Hill
I am not a human being; I walk in eternity
The Fourth Doctor
Dumbledore appeared silently upon the well worn pathway. The air, though cool, was a welcome respite from the cutting chill of the Scottish winds. Five cracks sounded as the rest of the party appeared behind him. They stood tightly grouped, their wands drawn. Clear, bleak, daylight shone down around them, piercing the leafless branches. Mud, moss, tree and stone were all that could be seen. To their left there was the sound of running water. No birds stirred, no twigs cracked, no animals walked.
Dumbledore held up his hand, a black pebble given to him by Professor Morgan pulsed with a faint light. Turning in a circle he set off, down the side of the hill towards the sound of the water. As he walked the light grew stronger. The pulsing became a steady glow, a vibrant, red. Scrambling down the hillside the others came after him slowly. Molly led the rest of the party, moving faster than her stout frame would have suggested, her wand held ready to slash at a moment's notice. Diggle came last, wheezing slightly as he scrambled down over stones and through ferns. Out of them all Shacklebolt seemed most at ease, moving with the casual grace born of long experience. At last they reached the bottom of the gorge, water flowed by, reflecting the ghostly green of the moss from the rocks, lending the place an unearthly feel.
Dumbledore paused as if uncertain over how to precede. After a moment he began to pick his way over the slippery rocks. He continued downstream, clinging to roots which dangled over the increasingly sheer rock face bypassing the growing number of waterfalls. The others followed, the feeling of dread and anticipation growing in their bellies. Somehow without the familiar touches of humanity the world had become a much more threatening place.
As they were edging round a pool Diggle slipped, grabbed widely and caught a bramble. As he fell it ripped open his skin, tiny droplets of blood dripping over the plant. His murmur of 'Oh fudge' and the soft splash as he fell into the water sent even Shacklebolt spinning on his heel, wand drawn. The sight of the tiny man, his vermilion robes pooling out around him as he sat chest deep in the freezing water somehow broke the tension though and as with a light laugh he scrambled out and cast a quick drying charm upon himself the others relaxed.
The going was easier then, mentally at least. The rocks were still slippery, the spray cold and the path narrow but the tension had lessened. At last Dumbledore paused, the edges of his deep purple robes fluttering in the breeze. Before them the way down the gorge became impassable, but just at the very edge, set a few feet above the water were a set of steps roughly hewn from the rock of the cliff. The steps led up towards a narrow crack in the rock. Dumbledore teased aside the leafless briars and roots which crisscrossed the opening.
'William, would you care to give me your professional opinion?' He asked, stepping aside to leave the entrance clear for the cursebreaker.
Reaching the split in the rock Bill drew out a pair of plain spectacles, placed them on his nose and began to tap the rock face. He carefully spaced each tap, the tip of his wand glowing. Then, edging backwards down the steps he drew a quartered circle in the air, leaving deep red flames trailing from his wand. The fire blossomed for a second and then guttered into nothing. They waited uncertainly. The seconds ticked by. Shacklebolt coughed awkwardly. Tonks closed her eyes, a thin layer of fur sprouting over her to keep back the cold.
'Bill dear,' began Molly, but her eldest child held up his hand for silence. A grin spread over Bill's face, the others strained to see what had pleased him. A fine tracery of lines was spreading over the rock, lit by a pale light which slowly grew in intensity. Rune after rune, etched in the weathered rock, came to life. Bill peered at them intently, his mouth moving silently as he followed the repeating patterns. He worked outwards from nodal points where seven lines of liquid silver intermeshed to form greater runes, shimmering golden against their argent companions.
'Beautiful, absolutely beautiful,' he murmured, enraptured by the runes. He half reached out a hand as if to stroke the rock before he noticed the others watching him. He blushed and licked his lips. 'This is a touch more complex than I expected. From what I can tell this is only part of it. I haven't got a clue how far this goes. Though given the lay out and the interlocking wards it probably stretches under and over this entire hill. It's got some serious power behind it. Whatever happens we don't want a runic cascade here. The overflow would probably flatten Cornwall and Devon at the very least. These are blood wards, very, very dangerous stuff.'
The others paled at the mention of blood magic. 'Er … no chance of getting through then?' Diggle's high voice broke in.
'What? No, we'd need the blood of who ever is powering these, or anyone keyed into it. This stuff is fresh too. If it were a couple of thousand years old we'd probably be able to hack our way in … eventually. Not with these ones though. I don't think whoever built this made a back-door. But the thing is these are inverted.'
'Which means?' Diggle asked.
Bill pointed to one of the greater runes, 'This one here? It's the magic rune tirnor. It stands for unleashing and aging. The thing is, its reversed. It's forcing a negative version of the magic inwards. Whoever built this place didn't build a fortress, they built a prison. Normally we wouldn't have a chance, however,' he pulled a few rocks out of his pocket and winked, 'the goblins have developed pretty similar wards to this. They're on some of their vaults: you get sucked in, but you don't get out. Sometimes Gringott's branches have been lost, so cursebreakers have to go in to rescue what's been left. This ward in particular has a weakness, namely that it's fuc …'
'William Weasley,' growled Molly warningly.
Bill paled. 'Right Mum. I mean it's big. Really big,' he finished lamely, 'which is to say that these little babies: jammers, can hold a little door open for us. Just a tiny crack, but in a ward this big, that's big enough. This thing's old, it won't be ready for them. They won't last long though and we'll need to stay near them to keep them going …'
'How long?' Shacklebolt asked, his deep voice booming between the rocks.
Bill's face screwed up as he tried to calculate it, 'Probably about quarter of an hour. Twenty minutes tops.'
'The plan is this then,' announced Dumbledore, ' Bill and Diggle you will keep the stones powered. Molly, Shacklebolt, they will be vulnerable so you will guard them. Tonks, you will report back to Doge so that in case we fail they will know what to do. Then you may help Molly and Shacklebolt. I will go and find Harry. If the jammers are about to run out, you know what to do.' Then he ducked through the crack in the rock and was gone.
The others hesitated for a a second and then they followed the old wizard into the hill.
Harry could feel it. The magic was literally humming. It pulsed through the chains. Something had changed. It was as if a room which had been lit by only a single flickering candle was suddenly awash with sunlight. An empty theatre suddenly reborn as the first strains of the orchestra lifted up through the dusty rows.
His blood, at least that part of it which ran through the design upon the floor was glowing. It released a pure, golden light. For one reason or another something, or someone had come to the hill, and the magic of the place knew them as it knew him.
Harry slowed his breathing. His breath misting on the air. Hoarfrost gathered at the corners of his mouth. It sparkled over his skin and crept up the chains, highlighting the runes in ice. There was a chance that this change might herald a chance for escape. He would be damned if he let it slip. The air grew dry and cold enough to burn in the lungs as he reached for the magic. The light from the blood grew brighter as it froze. The droplets dangling on his fingertips crystallised into ruby tears as they fell.
The Pale Man straightened up from his seat. He stood behind the granite throne where the boy sat hunched. He grinned wolfishly. Flicking the coin he was holding one last time he caught it, glanced at its upturned face and slid it into his pocket.
He drew a long, pale, aspen wand from his sleeve from his sleeve and swished it casually over the nearby stalagmites. Stone ran like water reforming into a shape more suitable for his purpose. Stone muscles ground together as he animated them.
'Go, welcome our guests. Leave their leader be.'
Dumbledore strode down the passage as it dipped into the hills. The pebble glowed a brilliant, flaming scarlet in his hand. The smell was nauseating, thick, filled with the scent of mould and stale water. Around him the walls glistened. He stroked the elder wand softly a gentle, repetitive motion to steady his nerves. He toyed with the idea of drawing his original ebony and phoenix feather companion. If Professor Morgan was right it might be for the best, he had little idea as to how the wand might react.
It was too easy, all his senses told him so. One of the fundamental laws of magic was that the more one struggled the greater the rewards. It was one of the reasons that some of the branches of greater magic were not taught on the curriculum. The results would have be pitiful in comparison to magic had been obtained theproper way. It was not enough to be taught, one had to need it, there had to be risk.
It was part of the reason Severus had become such a great occlumens. His personal motivation and the struggle to maintain the façade before even such a master as Voldemort had transformed his powers. In all probability there was no greater master of occlumancy in Western Europe.
Dumbledore paused, before him lay a cavern as high as a cathedral. It was easily three hundred feet in length and perhaps as wide. Magic permeated the very air. It hit him like a roaring wind, power such as he had never felt before rocked him. The cavern rose in a dome and beneath the centre sat a throne of granite, its surface covered in Celtic knots. Chains of blue steel, dappled with ice, bound a young boy. Lines of silver wound away from him in all directions threaded throughout.
Realisation struck him in an instant. There was no hope of breaking the wards on the place. Harry was the runestone which held them in place, but he was also the key to their lock. The magic was almost visible, writhing under his skin.
'Harry!' He called out hurrying forward. He nimbly avoided the rivulets of what he realised must be blood. The boy's head jerked up, green eyes blazing and his mouth began to open.
'At last. How delightful to meet you,' from behind the throne stepped a man. Dumbledore paused, holding the elder wand ready. The man was tall a mess of chestnut hair falling about his head in a mane, accentuating his already sharp features. He wore a duelling coat of marsh-green leather which stretched to his hips. Beneath it he wore a loose, shirt and black trousers obviously chosen for ease of movement, and walking boots. Tough, durable, light-weight clothes which would provide good footing in an icy hall. Whoever he was he was prepared.
'Might I enquire as to your name young man? I do not believe we have had the pleasure of being introduced,' Dumbledore remarked, striding closer. How long left, he wondered as he studied the man, ten minutes perhaps?
'You may call me whatever you so desire. For the moment though Jonathan will do,' replied the man tossing his wand lightly from hand to hand.
'Thank you. Now would you mind handing Harry over to me? I would like to remember this as a polite chat.'
'Are you threatening me?' The man threw back his head and laughed. He wiped his eyes and began to circle Dumbledore, moving in step with him. 'I have walked this world for over two thousand years. Your folk name children for virtues, mine for cruelty and pain. Polite chit-chat is not my first concern.'
'Release the boy, I will not ask again.'
Jonathan's lip curled, and for a moment it almost seemed to Dumbledore that he wore an expression of triumph, 'No.'
'You know,' remarked Bill as he placed the jammer and began to feed energy into it, 'I feel terrible doing it this way. It feels as if I'm cheating. Whoever did this was brilliant, really and truly brilliant. I'm just waltzing in with the future. It hurts.'
Tonks snorted in amusement, 'I'll remember if I ever have to lock you up: make sure that the wards on your cell are perfect. Just so that you can admire them.'
Molly turned her back to the entrance, beginning to watch the cave in front of them. It was long and wide. At points it was low enough to almost brush Shacklebolt's head. Several tunnels, some too small for a child, others large enough for a troll stretched away. Dumbledore's footprints were still visible on the sandy floor. She finally voiced her thoughts, 'Do you think he decided to just post us here to keep up safe?'
'I doubt it,' answered Shacklebolt, his deep voice radiating calm. 'You saw the meeting. He had already chosen the five of us before it began. This is a rescue mission. It loses any purpose should we fail to escape. We all know he could match us all. It makes sense that if we need to defend our escape and keep it powered that we should divide into two equal groups.'
'You're probably right,' Molly groused.
'Mum, I'm glad you're there. Diggle and I are pretty, agh,' Bill grimaced as a particularly thick jet of red light was torn out of his wand adding to the gentle flow of energy into the jammer, 'much defenceless if we want to keep our way out from imploding. The power that's flowing into these things is eating through them like acid through limestone.'
'Shh!' Interrupted Tonks, 'what was that?' Huge bat like ears grew from her head. They fell silent listening.
'I can't hear anything,' muttered Diggle quietly. His hat bobbed as he sat beside the runestone.
'No, nor me …' began Bill. Then they all heard it, louder this time. It was a skittering noise. Something with many legs was moving swiftly over the sandy floor. A pattering followed, small, heavy feet running over stone and onto sand.
'I think we've got company,' growled Shacklebolt, readying his wand.
They came in a wave. Shrieking, stone joints protested at the movements, throwing grit into the air. They had no common form: some were as small as houselves, squat and brutish without faces beyond teeth; others were spider-like, on spindly, serrated limbs. At first they came through the tunnels, then more of them appeared. Some emerged from the ceiling leaving gouges in the rock where their form had taken shape before they dropped to the sand below. Their limbs glistened wetly and eyes of jet shone in the wand-light.
Kingsley dropped two as soon as they appeared. Blasting curses smashed the rock into pieces. Molly, no longer as well practised in combat as in her youth, unleashed a handful of blasting curses. She hesitated for a moment before dropping back into a spell-chain more based upon entrapment than destruction. Her wand leapt between one movement and the next, unceasing. Ropes flew from her wand, ensnaring a one with impossibly long arms. A piercing curse drilled a hole through another's head, but failed to slow it down. Only total destruction brought them down.
Tonks' wand flew through a blazing pattern of spells. She levitated one of the squat figures and sent it hurling into its companions. The impact smashed off the creature's legs and cracked open the head of another like an egg. A flaming whip slashed across them, failing to do more than leave a glowing red line over the chests of a couple who continued forward unperturbed.
'What the hell are these things?' Tonks roared as Kingsley hit the entrance to one of the tunnels with a massive reducto sending the roof toppling in on an advancing series of the creatures and crushing one beneath the rockfall.
'Golems,' grunted Bill. He kept his head down, his wand pressed against the runestone. He kicked a small statue away from him, its claws leaving deep cuts down his dragon-hide boots. Blood oozed from the leather.
'Defedio, damnit they're getting resistant!' Kingsley's gouging curse made barely more than a scratch, though it knocked one back a couple of paces. Molly was casting non-verbally, devastating, precise strikes still thinning the numbers of the creatures. Even so there were too many. The wizards were nearly back to back now. Only their combined efforts and the relatively narrow approach to their position prevented them from being overwhelmed. New creatures were emerging, large than their predecessors, with veins of shining silver running through them.
The ground shifted suddenly. The sand bulged as something moved beneath it. Tonks lashed out wildly, a superheated spear of steel erupted from her wand. It barely missed the creature beneath the sands. Then the ground opened and a stone snake sprang upwards, sinking its jaws around Diggle's throat and tossing his small body to the side where it thumped heavily against the wall. He collapsed twitching. A horde of the creatures descended on him. Bill reached up, snatching Diggle's wand from the air as it was torn loose from his grip while still holding his own wand steady. He split the beam of light in two, channelling it into both jammers. Then, spinning round he aimed Diggle's wand into the snake's maw as it turned on him.
'Excidio,' the wand shone a bright gold and exploded, splinters blasting through his hand, the spell ripped into the snake. For a second it reared and then it crumbled into dust. 'Heh,' he said weakly, barely audible over the shrieking of the creatures as their tore Diggle's body apart, 'I always wanted to do that.'
Tonks caught him as he almost fell, leaving Shacklebolt and Molly to hold the statues back. 'Oh no you don't,' she growled, holding his arm steady, 'you've got to keep this open. We have to buy as much time as possible …'
Jonathan could not remember fighting someone who could cast a spell faster than Albus Dumbledore. The old man was lightening itself in battle. The instant the word 'no' had left his mouth he'd found himself facing a roaring bolt of lightening. Dodging that had left him on the defensive from the beginning and he found himself hard pressed.
He had expected it to be relatively easy to put on a good show and let Dumbledore rescue the boy. As it was he was having difficulty holding his own. It did not help that while Dumbledore believed that he should be cautious around the runic design covering the floor Jonathan knew exactly how careful he had to be. It was bound to get worse when Dumbledore discovered the blood posed less than no threat to him.
There was something naggingly familiar about the wand his opponent was using too. The magic was being cast with a surprisingly aggressive slant. It was not what he had expected of Dumbledore from his reputation. Cutting out his musings he unleashed a quick gut-spiller and used his coat-sleeve to shield himself from a stunner.
Dumbledore sidestepped neatly, avoiding the yellowish curse by mere inches. He returned fire with a wide arch mind-ripper. He would have been more uneasy about using a curse that could turn its victims into a gibbering wreck if had thought it would hit. Nevertheless it opened up his opponent for a blast of the tartarian cage. The spell rebounded off a hastily conjured shield and smashed into one of the walls of the cavern.
Ducking under a shimmering blast of rainbow coloured light he let off a series of colour changing jinxes distracting Jonathan. He whipped his wand across the floor and it rose up around Jonathan, pitting them into a battle of wills as to who could control the spell. He did not intend to win, it would be too time consuming. The key was losing just slowly enough that he could reach Harry. For a second he almost stumbled as resistance momentarily faded and the earth surged up around Jonathan.
'You've got my wand!' The indignant shout almost broke Dumbledore's concentration, evening the pressure after his opponent's momentary slip. 'That was a gift from a dear cousin. How dare you use it against me?'
'If I return it, will you let the boy go?' Half a dozen steps left.
Jonathan gritted his teeth, the effort of pushing back the stone was beginning to wear on him, the offer was tempting.
Five steps. Dumbledore's right arm began to shake at as he held the flow of magic steady, the air between them was pulsing with power, shining like the Aurora Borealis. Four steps.
'What guarantee do I have?' Jonathan asked, straining against the spell.
'Only my word.' Jonathan would have laughed had Dumbledore not chosen that moment to apply more pressure. The dry chuckle turned into a groan.
Three steps. Dumbledore could almost touch the chains. The runes seemed to have no external bindings. Like the entire hill they were designed solely to imprison. The smell from Harry was almost intolerable. The overpowering stench of dried urine and faeces surrounded him, evidently cleaning charms had been deemed unnecessary. His skin was paler than normal and it appeared almost translucent. His normally thin frame was hardly more than skin and bones. Two steps.
'What you have done here is inhuman,' Dumbledore announced coldly.
'What do you expect from one of the First Children?'
'More than this,' Albus Dumbledore turned his gaze upon Jonathan as he let the rocks fall back. It took all his courage for the fay lord not to quail. One step. Dumbledore reached out one hand and heard the magic within the chains. He was probably one of a dozen magicians in the world who could use the skill with anything beyond a very basic level of control. Ignoring the buzz of his own magic he split his mind in two, one part holding the spell against the Pale Man while the other listened to the song of the magic. The magic was surprisingly simple. The majority of the runes bound the prisoner to the rest of the hill, the actual binding spell relied upon blood, and could be broken with blood.
Dumbledore was half in a daze, the song of the magic enveloped him. The magic of the hall rose up even as his spell upon Jonathan fell apart. A blue dome of light deflected Jonathan's attacks with ease as if they hardly existed. The magic of Merlin had arisen to defend his heir. A voice echoed through his mind, Do not do this. You will release hell on earth.
Dumbledore shook his head. 'I must,' he murmured, 'if I do not I leave this boy to die.' He scratched his hand absent-mindedly against the rough-hewn edge of the throne. His skin broke easily and a drop of blood fell onto the chains.
A cataclysmic roar of sound slammed through the hill like a thunderclap. The statues trembled and cracked. They splintered apart, dust fell from the roof. Tonks collapsed onto Bill, knocking the beam aside, the rock the jammers were made from began to burn, warping and twisting as cold blue flickered over them.
'Out, out now!' Bill's scream was hardly audible, but the message was clear. He practically threw Tonks out through the exit. A loud splash and undignified swearing passed unnoticed as Bill pulled himself up and limped through. Kingsley took one last look at the battlefield. It was covered in lumps of granite, one area was smeared red with Diggle's remains. Then he too ducked through the gap.
Molly hesitated desperately hoping that Dumbledore would reappear with Harry. More of the golem like creations squeezed their way up from inside the earth. With a sob Molly squeezed through the crack and back into the sunlight. Moments later the jammers fizzled out, trapping everything inside.
Tonks was attempting to apply healing charms to Bill. His hand was still filled with holes from the explosion of Diggle's wand and the water flowing around them was rapidly turning red with blood. Molly took over swiftly, Tonks' healing spells, like her housekeeping charms were sub-par.
'Tonks, mirror Doge. He needs to know what's going on. We need to let Alastor know. If there is any chance that Albus is still alive he'll be the one who can do something about it,' Molly said, closing her eyes as she sealed Bill's wounds.
It was among the hardest moments in Molly Weasley's life as she fought to stop the blood flowing from Bill's hand. A wound caused by wand wood is enchanted and the flesh was badly torn. It reminded her all too forcefully of when they had brought back the bodies of her brothers, Fabian and Gideon Prewitt. Bill's cold, unconscious face was to fill her nightmares for weeks to come.
Over head the trees rattled bare branches and the crows took flight, cawing loudly as it began to rain.
As the blood touched the chains they splintered. The great stone throne groaned and broke in two. Visible magic swirled through the air, exploding outwards in a thunderclap of power.
Dumbledore was knocked to the ground by the concussive blast. Harry stood untouched at the centre of the storm amid the wreckage of his prison. Wild magic leapt up around him. Golden fire sprayed outwards, catching the Pale Man a glancing blow. It slammed him aside as Harry expelled the power he had held in check. The torrent of power died quickly. No human body was adapted to deal with such a flow of magic for any length of time, still less the body of a half-starved boy. He collapsed, his arms blackened and burnt to the elbow.
The Pale Man was no where to be seen. Dumbledore picked himself up slowly. He saw Harry's crumpled body and hurried to his side and carefully lifting him up. The boy was light enough to carry with ease. Performing a few quick healing spells to stabilize Harry as best he could Dumbledore set off back towards the entrance.
He moved in great strides, but a sinking feeling of dread was already filling his stomach. Occasionally tremors shook the tunnel and loose rocks and debris fell to the ground but he did not stop. At last he reached the entrance. The others were gone. In one corner the sandy floor was covered in lumps of flesh. A torn top hat told the tale of at least one who had fallen. Dumbledore bowed his head in resignation at yet another failure. With a sweep of his wand he cleared the floor and carefully laid Harry down upon the sand.
Far away inside the hill there was a whooping cry, and then another, and another. Something had awoken. There was little time left and even less if the pallor of Harry's cheeks was anything to go by. There had to be some way to escape this place. It came to him like a lightening bolt from the blue, and he berated himself for his stupidity. The entire place was built with blood wards: blood wards charged with the blood of the boy he carried; blood wards which had sprung open when his own blood and been placed upon the chains. Together they were the key and the lock to this place. They did not need to escape, all they needed to do would be to open the door. Picking Harry up once more he turned on the spot, disappearing silently.
Deep inside the hill the Pale Man, still picking himself up from the boy's blow smiled as he felt the old wizard tear the wards apart like paper. Checkmate.